A local group requested financial assistance from the county to continue funding a part-time coordinator position that representatives stated would increase the efficiency of local food services.
Brooke Kornegay and Elena Dalton —members of the Watauga Food Council — approached the Watauga County Board of Commissioners with the request on Feb. 4. The women explained that the Watauga Food Council was created a year ago to strengthen the food system in Watauga County — including local food pantries and nonprofits — that aid with food access.
In order to strengthen Watauga’s food system, Dalton said the food council needs to be able to coordinate efforts of food access organizations, identify opportunities to increase efficiency and effectiveness, research and suggest policy solutions that increase access to local food and demand for healthy food as well as increase the demand for local food retail outlets — as only an estimated 3-5 percent of the community regularly buys local food. To do all of this, the group advocated for the food coordinator position.
According to the Watauga Food Council, the group’s coordinator is currently funded by the town of Boone and Community Food Strategies — a statewide organization supporting regional food councils — through April 2020.
Kornegay currently serves as the coordinator, which Dalton — the program director of F.A.R.M Cafe and co-chair of the local food access and security group of the food council — said is and would continue to be a part-time position. Dalton said it is undetermined if Kornegay would continue as the coordinator, but that she ideally would stay in the role. The position would likely be housed by an agency such as the Watauga Cooperative Extension or BRWIA — which is the current fiscal agent for the food council, Dalton said.
The food council is requesting funding from both the town and county for the position to continue after April. The group requested $2,500 to $5,000 from the county to fund the position at the Feb. 4 meeting, according to County Manager Deron Geouque. Working with various agencies to move local food initiatives forward, Dalton said the hope is to identify several funding sources — that would primarily fund the coordinator position — to build on the foundation the council has created.
According to the U.S. nonprofit Feeding America, Watauga County has a food insecurity rate of 16.8 percent. Kornegay said Watauga had the highest food insecurity rate in the northwestern region of the state. While there are several resources in the county such as food pantries, kitchens and programs to aid with the insecurity, Kornegay said there’s a need to increase coordination among the agencies to help improve efficiency.
Kornegay added that similar councils are appearing across the state in efforts to increase food security and consumption of local foods. According to the Watauga Food Council, the group includes a local task force of representatives from local farms, the Watauga County Cooperative Extension, AppHealthCare, Appalachian State University, Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture and others.
During the last year and with encouragement from the town of Boone, Kornegay said the Watauga Food Council developed a process to identify achievable strategies toward food security. This process included gathering stakeholder input by hosting monthly local and healthy food promotion meetings, policy meetings and meeting with the local food council coordinating circle. Kornegay said the purpose of the meetings was to brainstorm how to get more food to people who need it in addition to getting local food to residents and visitors.
In October, the Boone Town Council approved the appropriation of $5,000 to the food council to create a draft food policy action plan, according to town records.
The food council then proposed recommendations to the town council on Nov. 19 such as agreeing that 10 percent of the food the town purchases would come from local producers, exploring adopting policies supporting edible landscaping on public property, promoting local food outlets through signage and marketing, exploring the development of a shared commercial kitchen and being open to supporting the council’s staff position to coordinate local food initiatives. Kornegay said the food council was invited to apply to the town’s outside agency funding program for a grant.
The town did adopt the 10 percent campaign proposal; it was mentioned during the council’s Feb. 4-5 retreat that the lunch served was purchased from Coyote Kitchen and Wild Craft in keeping with the 10 percent commitment. The town also approved the recommendation to explore adopting policies supporting edible landscaping on town-owned and private property, but other recommendations were not approved at that time.
According to Town Council Member Sam Furgiuele’s notes in the Jan. 14 agenda, the town later agreed to schedule functions at local restaurants that source from local producers and discussed exploring other recommendations such as the development of a commercial kitchen to provide a local food and agricultural processing hub.
Dalton said that other food councils have found success when receiving funding from the county. She provided examples of other counties with similar programs and food coordinator positions, such as Orange County, Durham County and Asheville-Buncombe County. Commissioner Billy Kennedy commented that some of the other county examples had a larger budget than Watauga, and that the county may revisit the subject during its two-day budget retreat the following week.
Commissioner Larry Turnbow said he would like to hear input from the key organizations in the local food distribution network to have a clearer idea of the impact the staff position could make. Chairman John Welch advised that the council continue communication with Geouque so that the county can discuss what role it could serve in the matter.